As the lights go dim and the stage is set we are transported to Chicago’s 1893 World’s Fair. Under the direction of Madala’s Executive Artistic Director, Pranita Nayer, we are invited to experience music and dance from various parts of the world. Sri Lankan Kandyan dancers and musicians (the main dancer being Sudesh Mantillake) begin with a ritualistic passing of an ornate mask-- large comic-like eyes, teeth and colorful fan-like ears. Khazna Khalil and Company trickle onto the stage showcasing Arabic dance (Raks Beledi) accompanied by percussion and oud. Khalil and Mantillake dance side by side. They dance so differently yet have the same shared passion for movement that after time the solos become a harmonious duet. The most invigorating duet was between Ayodele (African Drum and Dance) dancer and Mantillake. The female drummers fed the Ayodele dancer and Mantillake energy-- fast footwork, weighted and grounded stomps, light jumps and bright smiles. What an experience it is to be able to witness so many dance forms in one night!
A pronounced shift occurs when Ballet is introduced to the fair. The dance between Ballet dancer, Nicole Volpe and Mantillake feels awkward and disconnected in comparison to the other duets. This writer questions whether this is the motif that is representative of the “western influence” and “colonial gaze” described in the program notes. In Act II: Rediscovery the Sri Lankan artists return their attention to the origins of their culture. A beautiful song is sung by Vajira Dilrukshi. Her voice calms the room. Drummers, Chinthaka Bandara and Shantha Tennakoon share with us a comedic drum conversation. Mantillake joins in a physically demanding solo with the drummers. His movements are fluid, grounded and confident. His arms and hands hold tension-- slicing through the air like a knife. His visceral performance leaves us wanting more!
The final portion of the performance is what we expected-- an ode to present day dance. This rather contemporary piece is performed by various Chicago artists who embody different dance histories. Throughout the piece we see movements reminiscent of Kandyan dance of Sri Lanka which speaks to the Sri Lankan perspective. How does it persist and live on in the realm of Western dance?
Mandala Lets Us See through a Sri Lankan Lens
This evening’s performance of Masks and Myths was a journey seen through the lens of the Sri Lankan artists. We saw their past, present and a glimpse of what they envision the future to be. It is vital that we strive to be more cognizant of others in the world, give respect to each culture we encounter and also acknowledge that there are cultures we are unaware of. This performance was incredibly uplifting and it was such a blessing to experience (some for the very first time) so many different art forms both in music and dance. Most of all it was an incredible experience to witness the Sri Lankan dancers and musicians honor their roots.
Tuli Bera is a performance artist based in Chicago. She received her BFA from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. She currently dances with Project Ishti led by Preeti Veerlapati and Kinnari Vora. Most recently she danced in their new work, "Prakriti" which premiered at the 2017 Chicago Fringe Festival. Bera works as Aerial Dance Chicago's program coordinator and is also the director of J e l l o Performance Series housed by Links Hall and Elastic Arts. This is an artistic platform that provides opportunities for Chicago artists to show their work. For more information about The Series Website.